14th May 2020
ST MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE
Pastoral Letter No. 11
Fr Andrew writes:
Today (14 May) is the feast of St Matthias the Apostle. Matthias is perhaps one of the lesser known apostles of Jesus. Nevertheless I find him to be a very compelling character both because of his humility and that the choosing of Matthias teaches us something very important about the nature of the Church and the Christian life today.
Matthias was chosen to be one of the Twelve in place of Judas Iscariot, who had ended his own life following his betrayal of Jesus. There were two candidates, Matthias and Justus, and Matthias was chosen by lot. You can read about this in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 1, beginning at verse 15 to the end of the chapter. I find it humbling on the part of Matthias and Justus: it’s quite a risk to be one of two chosen by lot; it seems so random, yet it’s perhaps no more, or no less, fair than any other method.
The qualificiation was that whoever should replace Judas should have been so one who accompanied the disciples ‘beginning from the baptism of John until the day when the Lord was taken up from us’ (Acts 1.22a). The task of that disciple, now apostle, was to ‘become a witness with us to [Christ’s] resurrection’ (Acts 1.22b).
And the apostolic role was to be an ‘overseer’ (Acts 1.20b; cf Psalm 109.8). The Greek word for ‘overseer’ is episcope from which we get the word ‘episcopal’ and ‘bishop’. This is where we get the notion that bishops are successors of the apostles; no longer twelve, but still sent in mission and oversight, with and for the whole people of God, the Church. Bishops today must be utterly familiar with the life-giving ministry of Jesus and also powerful witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.
The word apostle means ‘sent’. In the Creeds we proclaim that ‘We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’. Sent-ness is a fundamental feature of the Church. The Church is centrifugal, sent out from the centre. The commission (literally co-mission, meaning ‘mission with…’) of Christians is not to sit on our faith, keep it tucked away in the privacy of our souls, but to live it out. Being Christian is a public statement and cannot be private, even if very personal.
The Acts of the Apostles (written by St Luke, the author of the Gospel) narrates the life of the early Church and traces the Church moving out from Jerusalem to Rome. That literal movement also signals the move from the margins to the centre of global power. The Church then was not locked in or locked away. The Holy Spirt sees to that. In that time the Church was both growing and being persecuted actively and was claiming a voice in the public square.
So what does that mean for us today? Especially when we are still, more or less, locked down? Throughout Eastertide the first reading at the Eucharist on Sundays and weekdays is from the Acts of the Apostles. This choice of reading from this book connects us with the apostolic power of the Holy Spirt of the Crucified and Risen Lord, to re-imbue the Church today with the same sense.
Let us use lockdown as a time of spiritual re-charging, keeping the embers glowing, ready to burst out set on fire by the flames of the Holy Spirit. May this be a new Pentecost for us!
Christians are both disciples – those who follow the way of a teacher – and apostles – those who are sent out with a commission. The Eucharist ends ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ or ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’; the operative word being ‘GO!’ Bluntly it is telling us to get out and live out our faith. For the time is surely coming, but is not here yet, when once again we may go up to the House of the Lord and, having tasted his glory, be sent as apostles to proclaim and live out the healing, the forgiveness and the salvation of our God.
Thanks be to God for Matthias, and all the apostles, for their prayers, fellowship and examples.